This post comes from Mom S. Over the last six years, we’ve had many conversations about the relevant books she was reading, questions that arose, and teaching ideas. I asked her to share some thoughts on this class and its effects.
Some time ago, I was asked to teach an adult scripture class in our ward. It was originally an extra activity for the Relief Society sisters but was expanded by the bishop to include any brothers who wanted to attend. I picked the Book of Mormon for the curriculum having learned from personal experience (16 years early morning seminary teacher, 4 years Institute teacher, 3 years stake adult scripture class, etc.), that a serious study of that book changes people. I was very familiar with the CES manuals and most of the commentaries and was working through Hugh Nibley’s BYU class notes that had been published. My son suggested ordering Brant Gardner’s multi-volume Second Witness, Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon and later, Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide.
In March of 2015, after a full six years of meeting for
3 hours 90 minutes weekly, my class completed our study of the Book of Mormon with those commentaries. Because this was not an official Institute class, there were no time constraints and the pace was determined by the needs and understanding of the members. My personal study and thus my teaching has been greatly influenced by my son Ben but also by two of my contemporaries. The first one reads the Book of Mormon each month in its entirety and has done so for several years. Can you imagine his perspective? The second one studies bits at a time, sometimes a word, sometimes a phrase, sometimes a verse until he can write it clearly in his own words. His focus is comprehension and context.
My specific goals for the class were to get individuals to think and become personally involved in the scriptures. These were the approaches that I used. Examine what a passage actually says instead of assuming that you know what it means. Create a timeline so that what is happening makes sense. Remember that Nephi is writing 30 years after the fact. What does he omit? What happened in the in between years? Ask meaningful questions. Identify with real people, their relationships, struggles and situations. Emphasize the role of Christ, His love for all people, and His doctrine. Either there is a need for an atoning Messiah or there is not.
Did the class make any difference? Two less active students started attending church. Because of his activity, one was able to ordain his son to the Melchizedek priesthood. The other went to the temple and was sealed to his deceased wife. Another student who was born in the covenant, in tears said to me, “ I think that I moved to Florida so that you could teach me the gospel.” An 80-year-old grandpa, who has served three missions, loved details about relationships especially Moroni and his father Mormon. The stake primary president noted specific phrases being used metaphorically rather than literally adding a richness and depth to her understanding. A stake relief society president said “Breaking down the chapters verse by verse made me think. These people were alive. They were real. We need to learn from their experiences. ”
I include an e-mail I received from one member of my class:
As Moses, I am better in writing than speaking, so I wanted to write up how this class has affected my life. I have struggled with depression since I was a teenager and have had ups and downs throughout all of it. Some days feel insurmountable and hopeless. My testimony has never wavered and my faith has been steady, but as a mother of [several children], there is always someone who needs something of me, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. It’s quite simple and easy to be drained in all three areas, and not so to recharge. I have sometimes needed more fuel for my spiritual fire than the flicker that I am able muster in the midst of mothering madness. This class, however, has been my refueling, for more than just the spiritual. My eyes are opened and my understanding increased of God’s will and love for me. I’ve just ordered the first book to restart my own study, as I attempt to nourish myself as has been done these past few months. Each week, as the lesson was taught and experiences shared by all, I would find myself feeling as though a spiritual super power of sorts had been given to me, that I had the courage, energy, and understanding to do anything. The “big picture” was revealed and sharpened with clarity, brightness and everything made sense. I have always loved the scriptures, but when knowledge is added to what I’ve already learned, they have come to life, come to my life, in a way that more firmly solidifies my purpose here. My heart has softened, not only toward my own family, but toward everyone I meet. So thank you for your time and efforts in bringing forth such excellent study guides, and delivering them in such an inviting and enticing manner.
What did we learn from spending six years together? That the Book of Mormon has much to offer verse by verse. That there is room in the church for everyone—those leading and those following and those returning. That there needs to be a venue for honest questions and discussion without fear of judgment or ridicule . That it is okay to not know all the answers. That the Lord strengthens faith when we show Him that we are interested in what He says and what He will yet say. That when you invest in each other, you learn to love.